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December 1, 1996
Housing director gets 'mansion' with ocean view
The federal government showered the tiny Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Tribe a community of 600 in coastal Perry, Maine - with more than $7 million in low-income-housing grants over just four years.
The money flowed because the housing authority's reputation for good management won it national acclaim and high scores in the competition for funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But in the past year, the authority has been torn apart by power struggles among tribal factions and by housing officials working in their own interests. In the midst of the turbulence, the executive director has given herself a low-income house and turned it into an imposing structure known locally as "the mansion."
Here, documented with photographs from a tribal member, is how it happened:
1. This is the housing-authority office run for the past eight years by Executive Director Pamela Francis. Her husband supervised construction crews for the agency. Together, the couple made $75,000 a year in this economically depressed community, where 100 people are on a waiting list for subsidized homes.
2. In 1994 Francis moved her father from a small, two-bedroom house to this large, four-bedroom HUD-subsidized home with a breathtaking ocean view. Francis, her husband and their two children moved in with him in spring 1995. When her father died the family exercised an option to remain in the house under HUD rules. They pay the housing authority $133 a month.
3. Francis bought this house from her son for $1. Then, at her request, the housing-authority board bought it from her for $85,000, relying on an estimate. The housing authority sank an additional $30,000 into the house to convert it into three small apartments.
4. In a separate deal, Francis persuaded the board to pay her $15,000 in relocation expenses for removing her horse, its small stable, this shed and fencing from tribal land earmarked for a low-income development. HUD officials say relocation money can be used only to move people. A family displaced by the same project received no compensation, though they had to live with relatives for three months before getting a new home.
5. Francis used proceeds from those deals with the housing authority to secure an $80,000 home-improvement loan from a mortgage company that did business with her office. She and her husband supplemented the loan with insurance proceeds following her father's death and with their share of HUD rehabilitation money. They also bought supplies and appliances through the authority under an informal revolving-credit arrangement offered tribal members.
6. The ocean-view "mansion" is now more than 3,000 square feet, by Francis' estimate. She said she did it all legally, with the blessing of her board, and in some cases, with the approval of HUD officials. She dismisses local critics as politically motivated or jealous. "Just because I was executive director, I was supposed to be destitute and homeless in the process?" she said.
HUD is sifting through housing-authority records to review these and other deals. Francis has taken a new job at a HUD-funded agency providing technical assistance to tribal-housing authorities across the country.
Copyright © 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.
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